And the Winning Formula Is …

Four decades of Best Pictures, decoded

Academy Award–winning movies stick to a well-thumbed manual of themes and techniques. The pantheon is crowded with mafiosi, extramarital affairs, shoot-outs, flashbacks and enough bare skin to make Caligula blush. This chart uses plot keywords from the Internet Movie Database to compare the nine Best Picture nominees for 2013 with every past winner going back to 1970. Of course, cramming a bunch of popular Oscar themes into one movie doesn’t necessarily spell success. (Otherwise, The Wolf of Wall Street would be this year’s runaway favorite.) But the past can offer a few useful tips. Note to future contenders: Lay off the opening credits.

This appears in the March 03, 2014 issue of TIME.
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